Fullback John Kuhn has played in 53 of a possible 55 games over the past three seasons. The two games in which he was inactive came in back-to-back contests against Jacksonville and Arizona last season. It was famine (26 carries, 66 yards, 2.5-yard average, long run of 8 yards vs. Jacksonville) or feast (39 carries, 176 yards, 4.5 average, long run of 25 yards vs. Arizona) on the ground while playing without a fullback.
The Packers figure to go without a fullback on Sunday at Cincinnati, with Kuhn listed as doubtful because of his hamstring. In Kuhn's place, the Packers will rely on their tight ends — Andrew Quarless, in particular, but also Ryan Taylor and Jermichael Finley — to handle the fullback duties.
"We don't really have to change much in the game plan this week," Kuhn said. "Drew has been mainly the guy who, when I'm out of the game or we're in a sub situation or we're in two-tight end situations, he's more or less the lead blocker and he does a good job with that."
Quarless' shining moment as a fullback came on James Starks' 32-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against Washington. With Quarless leading an outside zone to the left, Quarless took his path between the tight end and left tackle David Bakhtiari. When linebacker Perry Riley Jr. slow-played Starks' carry, Quarless redirected and walled off Riley to spring Starks into the open field.
"You have a course, which is part of your aiming point and the direction that you're going to take to get there, then you've got to make a read once you get to the intersect point," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot explained on Thursday. "So, that's what he did. He started his course the way that we wanted him to and recognized that the linebacker wasn't flowing quite as fast as he had seen during practice, so he had to react off of Josh (Sitton's) block and did a great job of forming up on a linebacker and walling him off and giving James a little bit of breathing room. … He made a great play. He reacted and he played football."
Quarless wasn't giving himself a pat on the back while discussing that play on Friday.
"That play you talk about, it's funny because I didn't feel too good about the block," he said. "It was a good block, but I really pride myself on being dominant. I want to put people on their butt every play if I'm blocking. I'm not satisfied unless he's on the ground and he's on his back."
As an in-line tight end, Quarless frequently is asked to block players of roughly the same stature as himself — a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. At fullback, Quarless' assignments include anyone from a defensive tackle to a safety. Plus, as an in-line tight end, that defender is lined up right in front of him. At fullback, the defender must be picked up on the fly.
"A lot of it is vision," Quarless said, "especially when you have plays like that (Starks' touchdown) where you're the lead blocker, but your guy is back there, so you have to get to him. There's definitely a lot of vision."
It's two games, so the stats don't have as much meaning now as they'd have in December and the positional difference makes it a flawed comparison, but it's worth noting that the Packers are averaging just 2.38 yards per carry with Kuhn in the game compared to 4.68 with Quarless.
"I enjoy it," Quarless said. "Fullback is not my built position, but when you get back in that backfield, a lot of times you're the lead blocker. It's one-on-one with those linebackers and I love that part of the game. I really love the contact and I enjoy doing it."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.